A question of character (4)

The qualifications that Paul lays down for pastoral ministry in the church of God are not focused on a man's gifts so much as his graces. In 1 Timothy 3.2 and following, as Carl pointed out, we do not have a demand for sinless perfection, but for that overarching blamelessness which manifests a grace-wrought, Christ-patterned, penitently-maintained spiritual maturity. Noteworthy is the fact that aptness to teach - having the gift of instruction - is the only quality, either here or in Titus, that has to do with discharging one's public ministerial duties. Again, the balance of concern is on the man's character. The 'gift of the gab' is not a pastoral qualification. The overseer does not need to be charismatic, handsome, easily or quickly able to draw a crowd, a grandstanding preacher, a first-class (or even third-rate) comedian, a snappy dresser, or any of the other things that so often seem to count for so much in the church in our society. In the words of the quaintly named Hezekiah Harvey, "No brilliancy of intellectual or literary or rhetorical qualification can atone for the absence of a devotional spirit and a pure life in a Christian pastor" (The Pastor, 17).

But there are certain things that this man must be in himself. These are the bare minimum. Whatever else he is or is not, these are the things that he must be: they are non-negotiable for any man who aspires to the office of elder, and woe betide the church who either waters down the requirement or who adds to it. The former will find herself with perhaps a number of men but none of them truly equipped to do the work as God intends it to be done, the latter will doubtless spend all their time complaining about the absence of suitable candidates (though we cannot pretend that the church is over-endowed with such men) all the while perhaps overlooking the very gifts in their midst that Christ has given to his people.

Moving on in 1 Timothy, in verse three we have a number of additional requirements: the man of God must be "not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous" (NKJV). (In the ESV, "not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.") Given that some texts list fewer qualities in different sequence, I will work through these qualifications by type, which I hope will satisfy (rather than infuriate) everyone.

The first quality here is that he be "not given to wine." In dealing with this we need to work between two extremes. On the one hand, this verse is not requiring that every elder be teetotal. If you wish to make that case, you must do so from elsewhere in Scripture. At the same time, the concern is not restricted to actual drunkenness. Rather, it has to do with his appetite and his reputation with regard to the glass and the bottle (or, indeed, the pipe or the syringe, or whatever).

In short, the man is not to be given to intoxication and gluttony. The extended application would cover the abuse of legal and illegal drugs and other "mind-altering substances." The man of God needs to be clear-headed as one who is required to make sober and incisive assessments and judgements (Is 28.7). He is not then to have an excessive appetite for or be under the influence of alcohol (or other such substances); he is not to be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation or debauchery, but to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5.18). His whole life, publicly and privately, by deed and in reputation, must demonstrate this quality of restraint with regard to intoxicating substances. If you cannot control the use of alcohol or fear that you will not be able to do so, or if there is a significant prospect that your liberty will become another's excuse to sin, then do not risk its abuse by yourself or by others - absolute (or very carefully managed) avoidance might prove the safest course under such circumstances. The gospel minister, as much as if not more than anyone else, must demonstrate that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6.19). Lack of control with regard to alcohol (or other such substances) is often associated with lack of control over other desires, words and actions, and it may be this that links us into the next matter.

In addition, then, to his evident self-control with regard to alcohol, the would-be overseer must not be violent. In the language of older versions, he must not be a "striker" or a "bruiser," inclined to passionate and uncontrolled outbreaks of rage, not obtaining his way by browbeating and bullying, willing to intimidate those who stand in his way (up to and including by means of physical violence). He must be "not quarrelsome," not given to fighting with the fist or tearing with the tongue, not characterised by ranting or lashing out: he has no reputation for "letting rip." Later in the epistle Paul will pick up these qualities as distinctively associated with false teachers:
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1Tim 6.3-5)
False teachers tend to be belligerent men who thrive best in an environment of mutual antagonism. The man of God, then, is not the man who climbs the tree by bullying his way up, who must have his way in every elders' meeting, or who - being the senior or executive pastor, if such terms are permitted - obtains his ends by simply belittling, excluding, firing or otherwise intimidating into submission those who disagree with him. He is not a pugnacious man, ready and even willing to contend over every matter as a thing of first importance, all wounded defensiveness and aggressive hypersensitivity, crushing all who stand before him under the iron hooves of his hobby horses. One has to ask at this point, how many bloggers and commenters swiftly disqualify themselves from pastoral office by their attitude, language and tone?

But it is also worth making plain that Paul is not encouraging a lukewarm and lily-livered ministry. He is not dismissing spiritual robustness or the moral courage that is willing to stand up for what is right: where necessary, the pastor must "convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2Tim 4.2). He does not say that the man of God must never be angry. If a pastor cannot get angry in the right way at the right times over the right things, then his heart is not yet sufficiently in tune with the character of God and his humanity not yet properly conformed to the image of Christ. However, the cause and demonstration of that anger must conform to the pattern we see in Christ (compare 2Cor 11.29).

Rather, in moving forward, Paul is pointing Timothy toward the character of "a servant of the Lord," who "must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition" (2Tim 2.24-25). This gentleness is a quality modelled on the meek and gentle Christ (2Cor 10.1). It is a gracious disposition, pointing to a man characterised by patience and mildness and forbearance and fairness. Here is someone who readily overlooks and pardons the weaknesses and failings of others, who keeps no list of wrongs done against himself. He can appreciate a man's right to hold a legitimately different opinion even while vigorously disagreeing with it. He is not swift to retaliate to perceived or actual insults and assaults. He is not eager to demand his pound of flesh, but will rather part with what is his by right than contend over what is unnecessary. He has the developed capacity to pass over abuse and attacks without feeling the need constantly to defend himself. He is willing to hold out a Bible to the sincere and humble man who differs with him and say, "Please show me," but he is governed by that Word and will not give way on those things of which he is assured.

Again, note that such gentleness is not a contradiction of his manliness, but the very demonstration of it. He does not need to hide this quality of soul behind the iron-studded curtain of worldly machismo. In fact, gentleness is a function of true strength. Gentleness is not weakness, but strength exercised in kindness, might demonstrated in mercy. Again, there is no suggestion that this man does not know when to stand up and be counted, but he can discern between the nature of different engagements and the different weapons to be employed, and his spirit is fundamentally one of sympathy and compassion.

Finally, he must not be "greedy for money," "not covetous." The man is no mercenary. Again, we have seen this in connection with false teaching in 1 Timothy 6.3-5: "If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness . . . men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain."

Covetousness usually involves greed for money, for the desire usually leads to corruption in the pursuit of its object. Fundamentally, Paul is speaking here of an immoderate and sinful love of money. The true pastor is not caught between God and the world: "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Lk 16.13). Rather he is, in the truest sense, otherworldly. He is dead to the wealth of this world, not governed by it or the pursuit of it (and certainly, his ministry will not be characterised by enticements to and the offer of mere worldly gain).

The more specific language has to do with dishonest gain, a desire to obtain financial wealth or prevent financial loss and a readiness to do so by hook or by crook. The pastor is not to abuse his ministry to boost his capital, not to make godliness a mere masquerade in pursuit of wealth. How many ways might these things be done? We can fiddle our taxes, boost our expenses claims, emphasise our giftedness, drop hints about our peers' salaries, labour the point of remunerating a man, make it known that we have received a 'good offer' from another congregation, complain about our wants or lie about our needs, or use a hundred other ways of communicating and pursuing our desires for more, including simply getting our hands on the purse strings for ourselves.

Again, Paul is not requiring that pastors be or be kept poor. Elsewhere he requires that "the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine" (1Tim 5.17), a requirement that unashamedly includes an element of financial reparation (cf. 1Cor 9.14). He does not state what a man of God must or must not wear, what car he must or must not drive, where he must or must not live (although one feels compelled to draw the line at discussions about which executive aircraft he uses - how does one decide between a Gulfstream and a LearJet? - or which of his mansions he chooses for the next holiday). Rather, the man of God does not find his comforts and consolations in his bank balance or his savings fund, but is rather content in the promises of God: "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For he himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'" (Heb 13.5). As Patrick Fairbairn makes plain, "striving to awaken generous thoughts and lofty aspirations in the minds of others, the pastor may come in a measure to reap material benefits from the operation of these; but if his own soul is grovelling in the dust, and the love of worldly pelf [wealth] holds him captive, both himself and his mission are sure to be despised" (The Pastoral Epistles, 142). The true man of God has no consuming desire for wealth, but is rather content with God's dispensation, willing with Philip Henry rather to preach for nothing than not at all, ready to beg all the week provided he might declare the free grace of God on Sundays. Alongside the matter of his hospitability (v2), this positively implies his generosity and liberality.

This has to do, then, with the would-be overseer's attitude to and affection for money. Wealth is not inherently sinful, but the man whose life is governed by the pursuit of worldly wealth, or who peddles the Word of God in that pursuit, is not qualified to be an elder. Here we can perhaps follow Thomas Brooks, and say, "You are wise, and know how to apply it."

Overall, this verse contributes to the portrait of a man characterised by self-control in all his appetites and actions, and marked by spiritual maturity. Remember Bunyan's wisdom that "the man whose picture this [the full-orbed Biblical portrait, comprising more than 1 Timothy 3.1-7 but certainly including it] is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way: wherefore take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death."

Consider the portrait, and do not - for your soul's sake - follow the wrong man.